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Ardern’s Leadership Generates Pacific Results

Written By: - Date published: 8:33 am, July 28th, 2022 - 9 comments
Categories: australian politics, International, jacinda ardern, Pacific, politicans, uncategorized - Tags:

New Zealand has been overdue to show strong results in the Pacific Islands. Not a moment too soon, this is what Prime Minister Ardern delivered.

The Pacific Islands region hasn’t had so much attention since World War 2. We can thank China for that.

A document leaked in March revealed Beijing’s plan to ink a secret security agreement with the Solomon Islands. The deal authorises China to regularly make warship visits and provide training and assistance for Solomon Islands policing. Worried that Beijing might leverage the deal to acquire its first military base in Oceania, the United States and Australia quickly dispatched envoys to dissuade Solomon Islands Manasseh Sogovare from signing the agreement. He inked it anyway.

Then in late May Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi embarked on a whirlwind 10 day 8-country tour of the South Pacific to win concurrence on “China-Pacific Island Countries Common Development Vision”, a sweeping multilateral development and security agreement that would permanently enmesh Beijing in the region. In the end, Pacific Island foreign ministers rebuffed this substantial Chinese overture, and Wang returned to Beijing empty handed.

It is in no small part the effectiveness of New Zealand diplomacy leading up to the 2022 Pacific Island Forum particularly from New Zealand that China’s effort was reversed.

A critical further win for New Zealand and Fiji was the regathering of unity among almost all the members following a walkout of all the Melanesian leaders. This was enabled through the Suva Agreement. In the end only Kiribati walked out. This Forum has been operating now for 51 years with New Zealand as a primary founder, so retaining unity with a set of more balanced power-and-responsibility agreements between all three sub-regions was the first critical scene-setter.

Another win was for the United States Vice President to provide a series of actual commitments, finally, after talking about it for many years. We are a region that is getting more diplomatic investment, and that is vital as an official conduit into the powerful.

The Forum also provided one-on-one assurance from the Solomon Islands to Australian and New Zealand leaders that while the agreement with China is signed, there will be no Chinese base built or operating there.

Hugs all round it was, in a tonal shift you didn’t get from the previous Prime Minister Scott Morrison or indeed John Key.

It was a critical meeting because COVID has as in New Zealand damaged a whole generation of young people and set back the economic progress of many small island nations.

The United States sees this and has been looking to both New Zealand and Australia for “guidance and support” in the Pacific according to a November MFAT briefing paper. Apparently the economic future for Pacific Islands is “perilous”, “An economic decline will likely erase several years of progress in economic development and poverty reduction. Without large amounts of external financial support, these could turn into major economic crises.” “With job prospects scarce and labour mobility curtailed by COVID-19, social inequalities will be exacerbated. Some countries will face a growing pool of marginalised youth – half the region’s population will be under 25 by 2030.”

To put not too fine a point on it, the key donors like Australia, World Bank and EU into the Pacific Islands are going to be needed more and more to prop up the economies and societies of these tiny states.

With China expanding its foreign aid programs in the region, the geopolitical competition for influence among China and other international and regional powers is heating up. However recent data from the Lowy Institute’s Pacific Aid Map finds that China’s aid pledges tend to be overstated. Australia and New Zealand continue to be leading donors, and not lenders.

The peoples on our doorstep have been saying for a while that they are going to lose from climate change the fastest. The Australian and New Zealand governments are certainly doing their bit to fund mitigation and adaptation.

What Prime Minister Ardern helped make very real in the Pacific Islands Forum is something we haven’t had in over 50 years: a foreign policy that is both independent and effective. It is based on principles that she set out very clearly in the Chatham House session a few weeks ago. Bring people together, don’t be beholden to any one great power, let small states find strength in collective dialogue, building international trade helps focus on what we can solve together, keep pushing weapons out of the Pacific, and let persuasion and facts generate unity rather than militarisation.

There is no one across our current Parliament that can come close to being able to achieve something similar let alone state it, and arguably there isn’t an equivalent to Ardern in the southern hemisphere.

Prime Minister Ardern is showing that there really is an alternative to being sucked into a binary Great Power contest within the Pacific, and the Pacific Forum was evidence of that.

This is a lot to have achieved in 2022 for New Zealand.

9 comments on “Ardern’s Leadership Generates Pacific Results ”

  1. Patricia Bremner 1

    I agree Ad. This remarkable woman did not "Knee jerk" at China's ploys. PM Ardern's visits to Niue "Daughter of Niue", from her parents' time there, has given her an understanding of their position and problems.

    We are all people of the Pacific. That most mighty ocean, which affects our shores and climate, and some are badly affected by sea level rise now. The riches of the seas are being plundered and life made more difficult for many.

    The rising tensions regarding China and Russia positioning in the coming fight for resources meant skill in knitting the Pacific fabric to present united voices of strength through unity has never been more important.

    Few would have the required skill and diplomatic nous to achieve that, and her excellent relationship with the new Australian PM is helpful. imo.

  2. Tiger Mountain 2

    All very dewy eyed, but the fact is Australia remains the US faithful Deputy Dog in the Pacific, the trilateral AUKUS–incorporating the UK (talk about foreign powers in the Pacific eh what!) rolls on, and of course the AO/NZ intelligence sharing role in 5 Eyes, which has demonstrably included snooping on our Pacific friends.

    So yes, nice to see Pacific nations being treated with some due respect by the current PM, but imperialist power plays carry on regardless. Truly good news would be AO/NZ to leave 5 Eyes, and for all of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia to declare themselves non aligned and have relations with any countries they choose to.

    Neither Washington, Moscow or Beijing.

    • Populuxe1 2.1

      Except that Washington is directly responsible for at least three significant Polynesian populations – Hawaii, American Samoa, and around 0.5% of the population of the continental US. The broader Pasifika community may not quite see the world through the lenses you do.

  3. mike 3

    As you say, quite some achievement -and the future is brighter.

    For the first time we can see ourselves as a major Pacific island taking care of our patch right up to Hawaii. When all said and done it's ancient Polynesia, and its original populations are linked if widespread. Long may it remain so.

    Is there any room for a hat-tip to the dreaded Winston Peters and his Pacific Reset? I hope we're rather better placed in this situation because of his work. He managed to raise our mana a little after the utter shambles wrought by McCully's wrecking ball. Australia, on the other hand, is engaged in undignified scrambling after the neglectful distain their government showed the Pacific – a la McCully.

  4. observer 4

    Unfortunately there's an antiquated (and offensive) view of Pacific Island nations that still endures in much of our media. If the PM visits then the words "junket" and "jaunt" will often feature in the coverage. Because that's all the islands are, right?

    Ardern is off to Samoa next week. No doubt the usual "photo op" jibes will follow, which would be an amusing own goal because Luxon and Seymour are going with her.

  5. James Simpson 5

    She is a once in a century type Prime Minister and will forever be remembered in the same way that Michael Savage is. She is remarkable and without peer in New Zealand, or internationally.

    Thankfully for all of us I don't think she is even half way through her reign.

    • mike 5.1

      Hear hear James – I hope you're right

    • Patricia Bremner 5.2

      There has been a constant drip of nastiness by some reporters, and the promotion of Luxon saying we are "over it" and 'tired of this Government' which has caused many to with hold their voting views now. This has gone into the realms of 'She goes on jaunts" and painting her as failing at home and seeking attention off shore.

      Luxon has hubris and his dissing of NZ business on his trip to Britain showed his grasp of business cases but lack of diplomacy and understanding of "representing us" to the world.

      His failure to understand the import of his misleading posts on face book is another indication of the disrespect he holds for minions and the public. He made Bridges' comments re a 'young staffer' look good by comparison.

      I could not imagine him going to the Pacific to knit diverse groups, he appears to be too superficial in many important areas. imo he is not even a patch on what we have.smiley Keep up the good work Jacinda, and may Chris Luxon keep putting his foot in his mouth.

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